Set in conflict of the Iran-Iraq war, the young and educated Shideh living in war-frightened Tehran becomes forced to succumb to patriarchal dogma after participating in a revolution against Iran’s standing principals. Her husband’s conscription sends his medical experience to the battle front while she settles into her role as a stay at-home mother to their young daughter and despite pleas from her husband, the stubborn Shideh will not vacate her apartment building home even when the threat of an Iraqi attack is imminent. When a dud ballistic missile crashes into the apartment about them, nearly breaking through their ceiling, the fear of a sinister presence circulates amongst the tenants that drives them one-by-one from the building with the prospect of an Iraqi attack to further motivate as a logical decider. An unsuperstitious Shideh remains until her daughter’s imagery whims and unwavering fever begin to form a more terrorizing atmosphere that even has her questioning the shadowy company of evil.
Not many horror films scare nowadays. “Under the Shadow” is not one of those films. The debut feature film of writer-director Babak Anvari posses a rare commodity of grueling fear set inside an already tense backdrop of the 1980’s Iran-Iraqi war. Anvari, the Tehran born Iranian nationality who was engulfed religiously in the culture, borrowed and rendered his from his family’s stories of supernatural pre-Islamic demons whisking through the wind toward those swimming in sorrow and fear; those demons were also labeled djinns. As a child born in the 80’s, Anvari had to rely and family to obtain a sense of the anxious air suffocating those taut by potential missle strikes as well as political and social punitive measures going against the grain. The UK based independent production company, Wigwam Films, financed the BAFTA winner for an Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer as well as receiving other nomination nods in other categories, serving as one of young production company’s shining stars early in the tenure.
Wrought by the explosive squabbles of two sovereign nations and incepted with archaic folklore, Shideh’s bound and torn between reality and the prospect of superstition, a role dutifully played by another Iranian born, Narges Rashidi, whose family moved to Berlin and she studied acting, scoring a minor role in the motion picture adaptation of the science fiction television series, “Aeon Flux,” and in the 2009 comedy-horror “Must Love Death.” Rashidi courts Sheideh approvingly with sincere strife over how women serving beneath men in 1980’s Iran as well as struggling to overcome that internal conflict as the mirror image of herself, meaning her daughter, when a phantom prowler is afoot. Portraying Shideah’s daughter, Dorsa, and the frequent link between the Djinn’s world and her own is Avin Manshadi in her debut performance. Manshadi’s round cheeks and doughy eyes set upon a physique stilling lingering some ounces of baby fat has little range, but most creepy kids and in creepy kid horror films rarely do. Rashidi and Manshadi fend well for themselves as the sole two characters cornered by war and Shideh’s personal vendetta against her country, her husband, and even her daughter to prove she isn’t useless as the motif lets on. “Under the Shadow” rounds out with Bobby Naderi (“Bright”), Aram Ghasemy, Soussan Farroknia, Behi Djanati Atai, and Ray Haratian (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”).
“Under the Shadow” finds itself in a subgenre nearly all it’s own as the variety of djinn-horror anemically pops up every so often as an unpopular and uncoiled viper, unlike the antagonist powerhouses of zombies and ghosts that’ve reigned supreme over the last two decades, and though Anvari’s film shares little with Robert Kurtzman’s demonic djinn of 1997’s “Wishmaster,” “Under the Shadow” has more in common with the late Tobe Hooper’s last film, entitled simply Djinn, before his death. Both are built on the substructure of an Arabic/Muslin mythology, set on an apartment building locale, and exhibit the malevolency side of the djinn, but Babak Anvari accomplishes a great feat on his very first attempt – a stiffly frightening air of a phenomenally harrowing horror story. Anvari patiently stacks blocks of tension, one on top of another, without a hint of quivering throughout the acts and what’s more astonishing is that all the acts deliver different notes prosed to detail that secures a simmering, shivering plot. To praise Anvari more, the young filmmaker leaves nothing to chance by closing with an open ending for the mind to assemble information and interpret the events; a classic directorial tool used by some of the greats.
Shuttering in the dark has never been so delectable with “Under the Shadow” inside a packed, limited edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. The LE runs with only 2000 copies sheathed inside a rigid slipcover with covert art by science fiction artist, Christopher Shy. Global horror aficionados will rejoice to learn that the UK BD disc is region free and presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, that’ll be available February 10th. Unfortunately, Second Sight Films provided a DVD-R Blu-ray screener so I’m unable to speak upon the video and audio aside from what’s already been stated. I will say the subtitles were accurate and timely paced. There were special features on the disc, including segmented interviews with director Babak Anvari, lead actress Narges Rashidi, producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill, cinematographer Kit Fraser along with an audio commentary Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham and Anvari’s short film “Two and Two.” Press release also mentioned the release includes a soft cover book with new essays from Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept illustrations and a poster featuring new artwork. “Under the Shadow” must be watched in the dark, alone, and with the volume up, maximizing the crawling chill down the spine and raising all the micro hairs on every square inch of skin.
Ever since his wife’s life has staggered on the near brink of death, John’s mental state has been thrust into constant turmoil. Unable to get straight answers from doctors and stuck inside the vapid white walls of a hospital, John remains by his unconscious wife’s hospital bed. When a mysterious man with a severely disfigured face wrapped in bandages offers him a locket that will grant him a single wish, John’s desperation to try anything to save her soul stretches beyond logic and reality, overpowering his rational principles. Despite coming with an ambiguous warning on how to detail his wish, John heedlessly requests that death cease to exist. The locket grants endless life not only for John’s wife, but for everyone as the dead rise from their eternal slumber in perpetual anguish that sends them into a frenzy of violence without a means to an end.
“A Wish for the Dead” is the first venture into a Renegade Art production and a Shami Media Group, or SMG, release for Its Bloggin’ Evil and, to be frank, the viewing re-establishes a couple of important things: 1) “A Wish for the Dead” has tremendous bite for an under the radar flick and 2) never rule out modestly financed films based on their technical appearances. The 2014 micro-budget indie horror from the short film director of “The Confession of Fred Kruger,” Nathan Thomas Milliner, along with the editing, photography, and co-writing assistance from “Girl Number Three” writer Herschel Zahnd, takes the cautionary tale themed with a careful what you wish for approach when despondency has one backed against the wall that leads to direly lethal negligence. Milliner’s film that’s based off a comic book of the same title might not be “Wishmaster,” starring Andrew Divoff, but can certainly be grouped into that similar genre realm where the ugliness of mysticism mischief can be personally devastating instead of gratifying. The film can also be lassoed into the over saturated zombie category because, well, you know, the whole arise of the undead thing.
“A Wish for the Dead” has a fairly large cast, but doesn’t have definitive leads. Instead, Milliner and Zahnd scribe a tale with miniature, personal scenarios for characters with John being a considerable catalyst or, an interpretation, of a centralized character. John’s played by Chris Petty, who had a bit part in the Zac Efron Ted Bundy biopic “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” and despite the character being fairly one dimension, Petty sells the performance of a grieving, greedy husband. John encounters the mysterious, disfigured stranger in a trench coat, head wrapped like a mummy, and nodding John over like a he’s going to sell him a knockoff Rolex from the inside lining of his coat, in Robert Hatfield that tempts him with the wish granting locket. Hatfield version of a biblical villain has charismatic and devilish value, but nothing new to note the rendition from previous performances of shallow humor and sly mischief upon an cutting grin. Branch off stories that indulge into supporting characters un-charmed, demised lives fill in the gaps and provide fuel for the undead fire and these supporting characters include Lori Cooke (“Girl Number Three”), Kristine Renee Farley (Hi-8 – Horror Independent 8), Adam Pepper (“The Zombie Movie”), Julie Strebl (“Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories”) and Ashley Anderson.
The beginning of this film starts off oddly as soon as the title credits roll for the feature film and coming to the realization that the viewer is actually not submersed into the actual story yet. First slither portion of the film is a short thriller, noted at the conclusion as being directed also by Milliner, that becomes clearly distinct from the rest of the plot line. The abnormal sequence snaps the story’s fluidity as a seamed segue that then constructs the multiple-tiered building blocks for the heart of the feature. Once the short has past, much to our chagrin that we believed to be the actual film, “A Wish for the Dead” goes into a precision mode with coordinating individually wrapped death backstories and while Milliner attempts to get us to care about these characters, all is washed away and lost when death revokes all their previous, present, and future terminations. The backstories become null and void when not circled back to for the exception of John and his wife that find’s a sweet ironic malevolency making “A Wish for the Dead” satisfying in the end.
MVDVisual and Shami Media Group courteously releases Nathan Thomas Milliner’s “A Wish for the Dead” onto a not rated DVD home video. Presented in a stretched 16:9 aspect ration, the lossy video quality and the lack of color, mostly in a squashy greenish-yellow, chap into sore spots along the 80 minute runtime to the almost the point of SOV quality. Darks are plagued with digital noise that remove the sharp quality from the image, leaving the story to fend for itself and make up for the lack of presentation. The English 2.0 stereo sound mix pops during the higher pitches of dialogue and of some action points, but the dialogue is in the forefront and nicely balanced amongst depth and range considering. There are no bonus features on this release, but as an interesting note, Milliner illustrated much of Scream! Factory’s home video artwork (releases such as “Halloween II and III”) and for HorrorHound Magazine. The artist and filmmaker’s graphically detailed and perfectly suited talents grace the SMG cover as well. A wish granted for the major win with “A Wish for the Dead” as a macabre success story for independent filmmaking for aspiring artists despite the post-production engineering for a cleaner release, but death isn’t pretty, is it?
In 1968, former Nazi occult officer, Samuel Sears, runs a strict farm in rural America, restricting his only daughter Alice from the corruption of the outside world with an infinite workload, and Alice violently rebels against her tyrannical father, Samuel kills her with rage. Hidden deep in the dark basement of his plantation home, a powerful Nazi-occupied amulet, charged by fear and hate, feed on his rage and fear and curses him to do the unspeakable. In the present day, four college girlfriends retreat to a friend of the family’s recently purchased foreclosure farm house, the abandoned and forgotten Sears farm, for a relaxing weekend getaway, but after night of drinks and games, the amulet reignites an ominous and dark cloud, reviving long forgotten, evil spirits who search for an endless quantity of fear and hate and will stop at nothing to swallow the souls of each and everyone inside the Sears’ estate home.
“The Hatred” is the 2017 haunting thriller from writer-director and Brooklyn native Michael Kehoe and produced by long time “Halloween” franchise producer Malek Akkad. Kehoe tells the story in two parts with the first delving in the Sears family, getting a first hand look at the hardworking German mennonite character that is Samuel Sears whose a former war time Nazi that’s settled down and raised a family in America’s backcountry. From what can be gathered about Samuel Sears, the farmer protects his past identity and isn’t ashamed of yet, but rather proud of his accomplishments alongside the Führer. All of the attributes of a proud countryman come suddenly alive when he receives a mysterious package containing the amulet, a photo of him in full Nazi dress standing with Adolf Hitler, and a signed letter personally acknowledged by the Nazi leader himself offering him the amulet as a gift for his fine work during the War and that ultimately becomes his downfall, pitting him against his family. The second part of the film tells a more uncharismatic story of four young girls staying at the Sears farm in present day. One of the girls, Regan, just finished college and is about to start a new job and what’s her ideal getaway with her girlfriends? An old (haunted) farmhouse.
“Wishmaster” himself, Andrew Divoff, gives “The Hatred” much more life despite his joyless character Samuel by somehow giving the former Nazi, now American farmer personality traits that are haunting in an unforgettable performance during the first act. The same can not be said about the four girls – Regan (Sarah Davenport), Layan (Gabrielle Bourne), Samantha (Bayley Corman), and Betaine (Alisha Wainwright). There’s no comparison as Samuel is a superiorly written and finely performed character than those he stalks beyond the afterlife. The gaggle of women offer no substance in the face of adversity or just plain ole progression of their character. Numerous times does Regan’s sick grandmother have scenes and Regan passively forgets about her poor grandmother’s health or Samantha’s uncanny interesting in history that really goes no further than the random facts that she spews. Regan and Betaine seem to have this close knit relationship, yet it founders and is suddenly cut short when all hell breaks loose. There are no personal connections established, offering little-to-no worth to their lives when Samuel comes calling for their souls, and leaves “The Hatred” in the take-it or leave-it column in the second and third act. Darby Walker, Nina Siemaszko, and Shae Smolik complete the cast.
Kehoe does display intense, nail-biting visuals with the materialized embodiment of fear and hate as well as sly editing with a scene involving Shae Smolik’s Irene, a little girl whose friends with Regan, who asks Regan to check under her bed, for supposed shadowy figure. When Regan pulls back the skirt to look, she sees another Irene putting a finger to her mouth, hushing Regan, and saying, “that’s not me,” as she points upward toward Regan’s impending doom. The heart-stopping moment will tear eyes away from the screen in anticipation of what Regan will see atop of Irene’s bed. However, that’s the sad truth in the extent of Kehoe’s story; a story riddled with plot holes and underdeveloped subtexts in which one in particular pertains to the aforementioned subplot of Regan’s ill stricken grandmother that goes undercooked when attempted to connect with the supernatural portal that of the Sears farm home. Characters disappear to never be seen again, character motivations go unexplained, and backstories are like a hazy dream and the entire ensemble is a mismatched, muddled mess in a premise that should have continued with the motif of the Nazi infiltration into America and less about scaring the wit out of witless girls with the creepiness of an alternate dimension seeping out of an unholy amulet.
The Lionsgate Films’ “The Hatred” is presented by Anchor Bay Entertainment on Blu-ray and UltraViolet home video in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio from an encoded AVC 1080p transfer that’s sleek and well lit, especially capture Samuel’s earthly and grim nature. The overall atmosphere doesn’t particular hone in a horror palette design, but offers realistic ventures into brightly lit areas of dark scenes. Details are fine in more of the natural aspects of the film whereas the CGI goes soft at times, but still very well detailed. The English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 keeps Kehoe’s film buoyant with a leveled mix through and through with clear fidelity and good, if not great, surround sound output. Instilled with conventional horror schemes, burdened with design flaws, and unfocused in it’s inability to pin down an narrative identity, Malek Akkad and Michael Kehoe’s spook house feature “The Hatred” requires much tender loving care to uplift this unkempt cliche horror into a coherent thriller.